Paul Pierce shows off his resiliency
Bounces back from poor game to lead Celtics to win before All-Star break
BOSTON -- Missing all 10 shots he attempted in Sunday's win over the Miami Heat didn't bother Boston Celtics captain Paul Pierce all that much. Even after one of the most anemic offensive performances of his 13-year career, Pierce knew he'd bounce back the next time out.
As long as his body would allow him.
And the pain in his left foot that contributed to Pierce's struggles against the Heat made him slightly uneasy. The discomfort was similar to what Pierce had experienced during the 2006-07 season when he had a stress reaction that sidelined him for 24 games.
An MRI on Monday revealed only bruising, and Pierce breathed a sigh of relief. Then he took out any lingering frustrations from Sunday's performance on the poor New Jersey Nets.[+] EnlargeBrian Babineau/NBAE via Getty ImagesPaul Pierce went from scoring one point -- off a free throw -- against the Heat to 31 points against the Nets three days later.
Despite skipping practice the past two days to allow both the foot and an ailing right hand to heal, Pierce produced a game-high 31 points Wednesday on 10-of-18 shooting with five rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot over 33 minutes to carry Boston to a 94-80 triumph over the Nets in the pre-All-Star break finale at TD Garden.
"When I had the situation a few years back, when I broke my foot, it was the same type of situation," said Pierce. "Some pain in my foot, just walking around. I just really wanted to make sure I didn't do any further damage to it. It's getting better; I've just got a bruise on the end of my foot. Hopefully this weekend, some much-needed rest will heal it up going into the second half of the season."
Pierce has a fairly full slate for All-Star weekend, but is hoping to mix in plenty of downtime as he treks back to his home state for the 60th annual festivities in Los Angeles. He will try to defend his 3-point shootout crown on Saturday, then join three of his teammates (and Boston's entire coaching staff) for Sunday night's centerpiece game.
While most of his teammates' minds seemed already on the break, Pierce said a loss Wednesday would have tempered his own excitement for the weekend. So he went out and connected on 5-of-8 shots in the first quarter alone, hitting everything inside the 3-point arc, while scoring 10 points and helping Boston build an early 15-point cushion.
What's more, he did it in "this foot is just fine" fashion. Less than three minutes in, he drove hard past Travis Outlaw, swooped along the baseline and delivered an aggressive one-handed jam over a helpless Derrick Favors.
After the lead trickled away with New Jersey rallying to tie the score by halftime, Pierce responded with 11 third-quarter points, doing more damage by driving to the rim (where he converted easy buckets and got to the charity stripe).
Then in the fourth quarter, a Pierce 3-pointer -- his only make from beyond the arc on the night -- finally put the Nets away, giving the Celtics a seven-point cushion with 3:57 to play.
For Pierce, it was sweet redemption after one of the poorest offensive performances of his career.
"It definitely bothers me when I know I'm not right," Pierce said. "I told coach [on Sunday that] I wasn't right, but I was playing through it. I knew I couldn't make a shot. It definitely bothers me knowing that I'm out there trying to help my team win [and can't make shots].
"As a scorer, you always forget those type of games. Like in the middle of a game, you forget your last shot, especially if it was a miss. I don't worry about that, I don't lose my confidence. Going 0-for-10, I was thinking something was wrong with the rim or the ball."
But Pierce knew it was something wrong with him. That's why he needed the peace of mind the MRI provided. And after missing 10 shots Sunday, he made 10 shots Wednesday.
"He's back," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Because he's a great player. It's funny, when you look at -- what was Paul, 0-for-10? -- and he plays like [Wednesday vs. the Nets]. You watch [Dwyane] Wade, who struggled against us [Sunday], you watch him [Tuesday] night against Indiana, I think he had  at halftime. Great players, it's just they don't have a lot of back-to-back bad games. So that was terrific."
Great players are going to find a way to come back. Paul's no different from that.” -- Kevin Garnett, on teammate Paul Pierce
Added Kevin Garnett: "You know what's crazy? I forgot about that game, to be honest. Great players are going to find a way to come back. Paul's no different from that."
Pierce admitted he's still in a bit of pain and said that would probably jump up a notch in the aftermath of Wednesday's victory, especially once the adrenaline wore off. But even in the locker room, he was still in a feisty mood.
Emerging from a side room to meet with the media, he pretended to post up in one spot before performing the same spin move that's shed many an NBA defender (let alone a flat-footed media horde) and taking a familiar spot along the locker room wall.
About the only complaint Pierce could have had about his night was a poor 1-for-5 performance beyond the 3-point stripe. Not the type of numbers you'd expect from the reigning 3-point champion.
But he proved Wednesday that he's pretty good at bouncing back strong from tough performances. Which is why he scoffed when asked for a prediction about whether he or teammate Ray Allen would emerge with the long-distance crown on Saturday night.
"I only have one prediction," said Pierce, who didn't need to offer it. "Y'all know."
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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